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August 19, 2011
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Home » A CRO’s worst nightmare…

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Making Good Work Better™


Scott LiddellBy Phillip Clawson, Managing Director, Community Matters Group

If you are a Corporate Responsibility Officer, this could be your worst nightmare… you’ve spent years building CR initiatives at your company, and then overnight, a crisis arises in some other part of the company (an area over which you have no authority) that seems to undo all of the good you’ve done. I should know; it’s happened to me! (More on that later.)

Maybe you’ve developed a best-practice environmental sustainability program. Maybe you’ve created a community investment strategy that is the envy of your peers as it is moving the needle on a pressing social challenge and generating ROI for your company. Maybe you have a large welfare-to-work entry-level hiring program that has employed thousands of people and reduced turnover with major cost savings. Maybe your CR strategy has helped you develop a new product or penetrate a new market generating millions in new revenue and benefiting people and the planet. Maybe you’ve presented at CR conferences, and your company has graced top 100 lists of multiple CR stripes.

Credit: Reuters/Kacper Pempel
Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Credit: New York Times

And then…disaster strikes! The press is abuzz with stories about cars that stop stopping (Toyota). A spotlight is turned on child labor in your supply chain (Nike). An explosion rocks a drilling platform and millions of barrels of oil start leaking into the Gulf of Mexico (BP). A house of cards built on shaky loans and questionable financial products collapses, sending the global economy into a tailspin (Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, too many to mention really). Or, in my case, it turns out that your company, at the time one of the largest accounting firms in the world (Andersen) audited the books of and helped disguise illegal and unethical accounting at a major energy company (Enron) leading to the complete demise of both companies. These disasters affect so many things, the brand, share price, and in some cases the company’s license to operate can be revoked.

So, the big questions:

  1. Why do these things keep happening?
  2. What can we learn?
  3. Can a company recover from something like this? If so, how?
  4. How can we inoculate our companies from future disasters?

I’m full of questions, and as luck would have it, ideas and answers as well (and humility). But before I share mine, I want to know what you think. Has this ever happened to you? What would you do if it did? In a future post, I’ll weigh in with some of my ideas, and hopefully with responses to yours.


Phillip Clawson is an award-winning corporate social responsibility strategy consultant. As the managing director of Community Matters Group (CMG), he helps clients of all stripes and sizes (Fortune 500 companies in sectors ranging from media to retail, from energy to financial services firms, with a few SMEs as well) develop comprehensive corporate responsibility strategies and programs. Prior to founding CMG, Phil crafted and directed CR initiatives at Andersen, and before that, at John Hancock. In a prior life, he was a leader at several nonprofits, including City Year and the Points of Light Foundation. Find Phil’s twitter feed at @csrconsultant, his LinkedIn profile at, and his website at

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